ACLU partners with Philly Boricuas, other community orgs to put voter information front and center
Aug. 21 was a test run in two spots in Philadelphia to get the word out about voting options ahead of the November general election
With all that’s happened in the last six months with coronavirus, many Philly grassroots organizations have had to scale back their overall efforts into communities and rethink how to do so virtually.
For Philly Boricuas, it’s become a question of prioritizing what’s important in the moment.
“It’s hard to do much right now, but the little that we can, we’re going to focus on how we can have the most impact,” said Vanessa María Graber, a member of Philly Boricuas
And in the moment, the most important for many not just in Philadelphia, but around the country is the 2020 general election.
In preparation, Philly Boricuas has partnered with the ACLU, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and a number of other community organizations for a voting information drive over the next few months heading into November.
On Saturday, Aug. 21, the collective held a test run with two sites at the West Kensington Ministry in Norris Square and at Bethel Temple in Fairhill.
The sites offered voter registration and all the forms necessary to request a mail-in ballot, and also provided direction in Spanish if necessary.
Donnell Drinks, an election protection coordinator for the ACLU and founder of G.R.O.W.N., said talks for a collaborative effort to get voter registration in Philadelphia’s underrepresented communities began back in January.
Plans had solidified on an outreach strategy towards the middle of March, but then the coronavirus pandemic flipped them on their head.
“We had to rethink everything in terms of getting information out,” said Drinks.
That started by sharing space with many of the city’s food distribution spots. Along with whatever food was provided to those that needed it, Drinks’ team would slip voter information in with the meals.
He said there have also been a few efforts to go virtual to get information out.
Philly Boricuas joined the effort about a month ago to bolster reach into Philadelphia’s Latino voter base.
On Aug. 21, a little more than 20 people stopped by the stand in at the corner of Susquehanna and Hancock streets to get more information about voting in the upcoming election.
Those running the stand at Bethel Temple recorded a bigger turnout in Fairhill and were relaying the information throughout the day.
“This is a test run, and we’ll probably try other spots in the city as we keep trying to get the word out,” she said.
One of the difficulties she’s seen in getting the word out is regarding mail-in voting. It’s still a new concept for many, and some have trouble submitting all the necessary paperwork to request a mail-in ballot.
That is especially true during the pandemic, as many public libraries or other community centers have been closed, shutting off access to computers and printers that are in some ways the only way to get proper mail-in documentation.
At the stand on Aug. 21, it was all about being a one-stop voting shop.
“We give the people the option. If mail-in voting sounds like something that’s going to be too much, we tell them to prepare to vote in person and then try to get them their polling location,” said Graber.
Getting the word out about polling locations will take up the bulk of the effort once Pennsylvania’s mail-in vote request deadline passes on Oct. 27.